Shoreham Cement Works

Shoreham Cement Works

A chalk pit existed at this location from at least 1725 and probably long before. Chalk was quarried because it is the key ingredient in the production of lime. Lime is made by first burning chalk or limestone to form quick lime (calcium oxide) and then slaking the quicklime with water. Lime burning was carried out throughout the county for many hundreds of years, generally on a small scale by farms for their own use. The need for sufficient supplies of coal and clay in the larger scale processes meant that lack of adequate transportation made mass production impossible until the industrial revolution in the 19th century

By the early 19th century coal and clay was  shipped to the Shoreham quarry kilns, which were roughly situated between the quarry and the river. By 1814 a large and successful trade in lime existed with Shoreham at its centre, lime being both used as a fertilizer and for the production of lime mortar. A mixture of chalk and clay  was burned in the brick-built kilns. The resultant clinker was ground down to a powder­‐like constituency to make it useable as lime to spread and work into the soil on the land and as cement to enable it to be workable when mixed with water for building work. Lime production was a skilled job that required a close watch being kept on the progress of the burning. The burning chalk turned to lime and would take many hours, sometimes days, not only to burn to the right consistency but also to cool down. 

During the 19th century demand for cement as a  construction material increased. Shoreham had its own ‘cement house’ and ‘cement mill’ at this time that ground lime clinker from the quarry – one run by George Parker in the 1830’s at King’s Arms Fields (on The Ham), the other owned by Thomas Clayton (1827-1871), located at Dolphin Buildings (now Coronation Green) with its own quayside on the river. There was in any case ample other wharfage along the riverside between Shoreham and Kingston for storing materials such as chalk or lime for export.

The chalk (one of a number of limestone varieties) from the hillside at Beeding had long been recognized as being of a particularly good quality for use as lime and cement and this attracted the attention of those seeking to make profit from the industry. During the last part of the 19th century the “Shoreham Cement Works” changed hands several times. The Beeding Cement Co. created around 1882 was bought in 1895 by H. R. Lewis and Co., then described as limeburners and coal merchants. Lewis and Co. themselves were bought out only  a few years later by the Sussex Portland Cement Co. of Newhaven, which in turn was taken over in 1912 by British Portland Cement Manufacturers.

The early twentieth century saw the works grow considerably in size when new buildings and chimneys were built on the west side of the road. As the cliff face was gradually ground back and further from the kilns a man-powdered tramway (i.e. the trucks were pushed by men or boys) was used to convey the chalk to the kilns for processing.  During the planning of this exapnsion of the Shoreham site, the owner, the Sussex Portland Cement Company directors researched the latest machinery and processes from all over the world and as result the cement works utilised cutting edge technology for the production of lime.

The whole site was powered by gas and electricity and a gas making plant was installed together with a new washing plant, wet mill and 250 hp gas engine to drive it. A 100 hp gas engine drove the coal grinding/drying plant for the rotary kilns, a 400 hp engine for wet and dry mills and a 60 hp Parson’s steam turbine and two compound condensing engines, all three to power the electric plant. There were fourteen chamber kilns each producing 30 tons of clinker per week but two, more efficient German Schneider kilns were purchased that each turned out 100 tons per week. American designed rotary kilns enabled complete manufacture of cement in two and a half hours compared with ten days or more using the traditional methods.

They had their own fleet of barges to receive coal, coke and clay and despatch the lime and cement. Another means of conveyance was utilized when the railway sidings on the works site were laid down to enable faster and more economical transportation of cement and materials. Two stores were erected and incoming raw material/outgoing cement was loaded/offloaded using a steam crane. With an efficient gang of men this enabled 260 tons to be loaded in one hour. As cement production grew a nearer source of clay was discovered during the start of the 20th century at Horton that was purchased by the cement works, dug out then transported down river in barges to the works. This was later pumped in slurry form from Horton in a large pipe ­‐ the resultant clay pit west of the road just before it enters Small Dole is nowadays used as an infill site. As a result of all this activity output increased from around 5,200 tons in 1897 to 41,600 a year by 1902. 

The site continued to operate at this rate until the 29th of September 1940, when the site was attacked by 4 German bombers who dropped 16 bombs. 4 bombs fell within factory grounds, 2 of which detonated. 6 hit the Steyning line where 4 of which exploded, 1 hit the Steyning road and failed to detonate and the last 5 landed on surrounded farmland. Incredibly, this resulted in zero casualties. The railway was destroyed, trains were derailed and the loading shed was demolished. Electric cables and telephone wires had also been heavily effected. However, none of the factory’s machinery had been damaged and thus with the unexploded bombs taken care of and repairs completed the site was back and fully operational shortly after.

The plant was completely rebuilt from 1948 to 1950 mainly on the cleared ground east of the road. Considered at that time to be state of the art Shoreham was the first to use the latest Vickers Armsrong kilns. One of the earlier kilns was retained to supplement the others but was labour intensive, expensive to run and shut down in 1967. The Vickers Armstrong kilns, whilst highly successful and much copied originally were converted to filter cake feed in 1983 with a filter press. As it turned out though, this arrangement was ultimately found to limit production due to its high dust loss and was a factor largely due for the plant’s closure. All the new buildings in the plant were made of pre-cast concrete blocks. In addition the conveyors and supporting towers were clad in asbestos cement sheet and the claim at the time was that the effect of all this made the presence of chalk dust virtually unnoticeable. The kilns are 350 ft long by 10 ft in diameter (107m x 3m). Slurry was fed into them then pulverized coal blown in and ignited to burn the slurry at 2,500 degrees farenheit (1,370 centigrade). The resultant red-hot clinker was then dropped into open-ended cooling tubes that carried the air upwards to prevent dust escaping into the building. It may have been an effective means of controlling interior dust but perhaps this was the main cause of the pollution to the surrounding countryside. The plant employed 250 personnel in 1968 that rose to 330 by 1981. After achieving a production rate of 250,000 tons of cement a year at its zenith (and perhaps surprisingly was still producing lime as well in 1971) during which it ate away a whole hillside, the works finally closed down in 1991